Interview: Maryann Plunkett and Dorian Harewood Bring Life and Wisdom to The Notebook

The two Tony nominees discuss playing Older Allie and Older Noah in this new musical.

You can sometimes tell when actors in a show know each other in real life — mostly based on their chemistry. Maryann Plunkett and Dorian Harewood had never met when Harewood was cast as the Older Noah to her Older Allie in The Notebook for Broadway, but watching the show, you’d think they’d been friends forever. Their performances are so lived-in, so thorough in their history, that there’s no question why they’d receive Tony nominations for their work. Here, they tell us about their onstage and offstage camaraderie, and how happy they are to be in this particular show.

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Dorian Harewood and Maryann Plunkett
(© Rachel Neville)

This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Why were these roles that really called out to you?
Dorian Harewood: My manager had told me about it, and I knew nothing. I had never read the book nor seen the movie. I was just an actor auditioning for a role. And fortunately, I got it, because this is one of the best projects I’ve ever been on.

Maryann Plunkett: I had seen a couple of scenes from the movie. The famous rain scene. But the script that Bekah Brunstetter did compelled me, and Ingrid Michaelson’s music compelled me. In my own life, my mom lived with dementia for a number of years, so there was that tie-in for me, to have the opportunity to hopefully present a person who lives with dementia as a full person, as opposed to just a person who has dementia. And as Dorian said, it’s one of the most beautiful projects I’ve ever, ever worked on.

Maryann, were you anxious or anything about doing a musical on Broadway for the first time since, I guess, Me and My Girl?
Maryann: No. I’m not a person who thinks the only place to work is on Broadway. In fact, I did a musical not too long ago by The Bengsons, called The Lucky Ones, at the Connolly Theatre. I had felt very fulfilled. I took time off to raise my son and was doing workshops and readings during that time. But no, I had an immensely full life that has permitted me to bring a lot of life experience back to what I’m doing. Life counts for a lot.

Dorian, what is it like for you to come into this company that had already worked together on the Chicago production? How did you form a bond with Maryann and your younger counterparts so quickly in this short rehearsal process?
Dorian: Maryann and I had never met, so the most important thing that happened was that she asked if we like to get together before the official rehearsals started to just meet and talk about what was going on with the characters. That was invaluable. We had five days of discussions; not really rehearsals as much as me feeling my way through the whole thing and getting to know what they were doing. It got us very well ahead of the game when we started our regular rehearsal.

Maryann: We have what we call “our play.” We’re out there virtually for all of Act One and it’s not as though we go passive when another scene is taking place, or a song is being sung. Dorian’s Noah is actively reading to me and I’m picturing it and imagining it, so we have to stay alive without taking focus or doing schtick. It was a wonderful journey of discovering those things. It changes bit by bit, but we have a very strong foundation, and that’s what makes this musical so unique.

Dorian: We witness it from the stage each night and it informs us in terms of how we react to each other. I come to the theater for every performance knowing that it takes a lot of energy. But at the end of every show, I’m energized because we’re witnessing this wonderful story. We’re living it, basically. And after every show, I’m surprised that I’m more energized than when I came.

Maryann: Dorian and I have both been in long and loving marriages. Dorian’s is longer than mine, but mine is still pretty long. I don’t know if it’s just the play, but we are both at an age where the brevity of time can change the dynamic. We live that every day with the loss of friends, seeing friends going through the loss of each other, partners. It’s just part of life. And this show presents it so beautifully.

It’s an offering. It’s not manipulating it. It’s simply saying, this is a life well-lived. They weren’t famous people. They are people who were unheralded by most of the world, but they lived a life worth living. That is an incredible thing to be able to play. I’ve been around a long time, and I put this right up in the top five of anything I have ever done. When some people say to me “Can you hear the people crying?” I always go “What I hear mostly is the laughter.” The fact that people always go to the crying…I hear a lot of people enjoying the spark of the human being. The tears that come are earned.

Dorian: It encompasses the human experience, the wide range of laughter, joy, sadness, and overall love and commitment to each other. Everyone has something they can connect to.

Maryann, in terms of acting the minutae of human emotions, do you see a connection between your work in The Notebook and the work that you spent a decade doing in your various Richard Nelson plays?
Maryann: I do see a connection. This show, even if it’s a Broadway musical, it’s very intimate. Richard’s shows are about the need to talk. It’s what say every time we go on stage before one of Richard’s plays. We go up to each other and go “Hey, I need to talk to you.” That’s always Richard’s mantra: These are people who need to communicate with each other. I feel thrilled that I’m using Richard’s style in this play, especially in Dorian’s and my little play. It’s about looks. It’s about a gesture. It’s about a turn. It’s about a question without having the words necessarily. I know it sounds so boring, but I just keep going “I love, love, love this production, this play, this music, this company.” I’m thrilled to be part of this all.

That must be a nice feeling to take into work each day.
Dorian: Wonderful experience. Wonderful experience. That’s the feeling.

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Maryan Plunkett and Dorian Harewood as Older Allie and Older Noah in The Notebook on Broadway
(© Julieta Cervantes)

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